Friday 30 December 2016

New Issue 2016.39

“I wrote from when I was twelve. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company. I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn't know.

—Carrie Fisher

 [ Issue 2016.39; Cover art © 2016 Pear Nuallak ]

Issue 2016.39

Flash fiction
Short stories
E-book versions coming soon

Review this issue on Goodreads

Thursday 29 December 2016

Interview with Katrina S. Forest

This week we have a visit from Katrina S. Forest, whose wonderful mid-apocalyptic short story “The Poisoned City” appeared in TFF #31 back in 2014, and is now the title story in her self-published collection The Poisoned City and Other Stories. She answered a few questions about her writing, collaboration, and learning d/Deaf sign language.

Katrina S. Forest is a preschool teacher by day, speculative fiction author by any-other-time-she-can-get. In 2009, she had the pleasure of attending Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, and her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, ranging from Flash Fiction Online to Crossed Genres. Her kids think she’s eccentric, but don’t say so because their vocabularies aren’t that big yet.

TFF: Your short story “The Poisoned City,” in TFF #31 two years ago, has a Deaf protagonist, a life-saving android, and a whole city trapped in post-apocalyptic quarantine. Where did the plot and the characters come from?

Katrina S. Forest: That story had an odd origin. I misheard something on a show I was watching and thought one of the minor characters was secretly an android. Then while the show kept going, I got stuck on this concept and started forming a plot around how the android might be holding a cure for some type of disease or poison. I was working on another story that had a deaf protagonist at the time, and her no-nonsense attitude seemed to fit right into the role I was looking for with the delivery person. So she got an alter-ego in that story and I got to turn my moment of confusion into a fun, creative project.

Would you like to have a robot assistant? What tasks that you hate would you happily assign to them?

KSF: I hate driving. I would be happy to have a robot drive me places. Of course, the car itself would likely be the robot. I am currently hoping that robot cars become the norm before my kids are old enough to get their driver’s licenses.

If you could choose, who (real or fictional) would be your companion in a post-apocalyptic scenario?

KSF: Hmm… let’s go fictional and say Hermione Granger. If I’m in a post-apocalyptic scenario, a companion with useful magical powers is a must. (Or am I thinking too practically about this?)

“The Poisoned City” was also the story that helped you gain acceptance to Clarion West a while back, I believe. What was the experience of such an intense, residential program like?

KSF: It was pretty crazy. Mostly all our time was spent writing, reading, or talking about writing or reading. It was six weeks of entering a completely different world. A lot of writers dream of writing as a full-time job, but this was more than that. It was writing as a full-time job in a building with seventeen other people doing the same thing.

I’ve heard other Clarion graduates say they’re divided as to whether the intense writing tuition or their new “family” of co-students was the best thing to come out of the workshop. Which is it for you?

KSF: I think it’s the family. Everyone there treated everyone else like a professional. It was okay to experiment and write something bad; you didn’t feel like you had to prove yourself to the group. I think often times in critique groups, writers feel pressure (valid or not) to show they’ve got some reasonable level of skill. They may only put forward work they don’t really plan on polishing anymore. I know my work has improved after Clarion West, but I think a lot of had to do with learning how to be critical of it and seek out people who will tell me what’s wrong, not just people who will pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing great.

Your current collection, The Poisoned City and Other Stories, explores the themes of what makes us human. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the stories, and how they approach this theme differently?

KSF: The collection largely consists of stories I’ve sold previously, but there are a few new ones in there, too. Some of the stories are about characters who are losing their human bodies. One character begins trading her flesh limbs and organs for synthetic ones. Another character is slowly transforming into an alien species. In these stories, there’s someone who views the protagonist as less than human, even though the person inside is the same.

Other stories focus on the commonalities we share—our emotions, our wishes, our desire to connect and communicate. Hopefully it’s a collection that people enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Have you ever thought of writing a sequel or prequel to a famous story?

KSF: Several times. When I was younger, I kept wanting to write a sequel to Rikki Tikki Tavi. I later got into Greek Mythology and I’ve taken several shots at writing a novel about the three gorgons. I always felt like they got shortchanged in the whole Perseus myth.

What is it like for you to engage with the Deaf community as a non-native speaker? You’ve mentioned that you have an editor who helps you with cultural sensitivity and accuracy, for example. How does that work?

KSF: So far it’s been very humbling. I’m fortunate; my area has an organization that, along with providing communication services for the deaf, also provides education for the hearing and organizes events to help bring the communities together. I’ve been taking ASL classes there for a few years, and all my teachers have been wonderful. I’m looking forward to when my skills are such that they don’t have to slow down their fingerspelling quite so much for me.

My editor is Chase from Chase Editing. We connected on a writing forum originally, and since then, he’s edited one of my novels and several of the short stories in my collection. For those stories featuring a deaf protagonist, he’s pointed out moments when I might not be portraying my character’s experience or culture as accurately as I could be. He also points out overuse of “that” and my comma splices. Thankfully, these are my more frequent errors.

Can you recommend any books (speculative fiction or otherwise) by Deaf authors or with Deaf protagonists that our readers should be aware of?

KSF: Deaf in America is a collection of essays by a variety of authors; that was one of the first books I read when I wanted to learn more about Deaf culture. If you’re into comics, El Deafo is a wonderfully heartfelt and honest book, exploring author Cece Bell’s childhood through vivid artwork (of bunnies!). Ms. Bell mentions that while she herself is deaf (with a lowercase d), she has not yet “pursued a direct role” in Deaf (with a capital D) culture, and her author’s notes at the end helpfully explain the terms for readers. If you’re a fan of YA, I recommend the blog Disability in Kidlit. There are a lot of books featuring Deaf and disabled characters that aren’t necessarily written by authors with that life experience, so getting the input of at least one voice from the community is invaluable to me as a reader.

I understand you’re currently working on a novel in collaboration with another TFF author. Can you tell us anything about that work yet?

KSF: I can tell a little, I think. The author I’m working with is Sara Patterson, whose story “A Sense All Its Own” was featured in Accessing the Future. The novel takes place in that story’s setting with Sara’s character on a world-saving mission alongside one of my own characters. Our book is tentatively titled Feral Prime, after the destination that the characters are headed towards.

Do you write differently when you do it as a collaborative work?

KSF: In the case of Feral Prime, the book is told from two POVs, so we each work on the chapters featuring our own characters, then we swap for editing. I’m going to miss it a lot when I write my next solo work… having someone guiding the book’s direction with me as we go is a huge advantage.

What can fans of Katrina S. Forest look forward to in the near future? Any more stories or other publications on the way that you can sneak preview?

KSF: Most all of my writing efforts are going into Feral Prime right now, but anyone who’s interested can always check out my website for updates: Thank you so much for the opportunity!

Thank you for answering our questions, Katrina!

You can find Katrina’s short story collection at Amazon and other online booksellers. The first appearance of her story “The Poisoned City” was in TFF #31.

Monday 19 December 2016

Guest post: Lost Manual for Life

The Lost Manual for Life (™)
Guest post by Jo Thomas Publishing recently (at time of writing) announced their next anthology, Problem Daughters, which will look at intersectional feminism and excluded voices, including (among many others) disabled women. Which set off a bunch of neurons in my brain, because I’m a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not sure whether it shows to others in my writing but I feel that the experience of life it has given me does actually make it easier to write particular styles.

The best place to go if you want to know more about Asperger’s, considered to be part of the Autism Spectrum, is to go and have a look at some sources like the National Autistic Society. However, the bit that I want to mention is feeling like you lost the manual to life and everyone else has a copy.

This is, I’m told, a very common feeling. So common that when it’s mentioned to your GP or anyone else while you’re considering pursuing a diagnosis, the “But everyone feels like that” response will run the whole gamut between affectionate exasperation and outright dismissal. The main difference is that an aspie, given that we have problems processing facial expressions and tones of voice, may not actually pick up on the display of emotion that went with it. It depends on the aspie’s mindset as to how painful that disagreement is to them, not the feeling the other person was trying to convey.

Again, you may say this is universal, and I agree. These things are never binary and there is a matter of degree involved.

Because this feeling of not fitting in is so universal, it’s often a key part of a view-point character. As a reader, it’s easier to grasp what’s going on in a new world if it’s also new to the person they are experiencing it through or is describing it to them. As if they, too, are writing their own manual as the experience the world and adjust their understanding accordingly.

For me, this goes so far that it’s much easier for me to grasp the story I need to tell—and the world it is unfolding in—if I can hook into a particular character who is new to the world and to the plot I’m exploring. (Again, I have no doubt this is a “But everyone feels like that.” Then again, I can’t speak for other writers.) So it’s probably not a surprise that my first published novel was told in first person.

The first person in question is the young Elkie Bernstein who, in the not-so-urban fantasy 25 Ways To Kill A Werewolf from Fox Spirit Books, is a teenager without a manual when she finds out that werewolves really do exist. The first book is essentially Elkie working out how to write her own manual for life (something her creator has yet to achieve). Of course, even if she knows that there’s a way things are supposed to be, her plans are somewhat ruined by having monsters going bump in the night. Something her creator has yet to experience, thankfully.

Just when Elkie thinks she’s got a handle on things, despite not being on her imagined life-track, book 2 came along. A Pack of Lies (also Fox Spirit Books) is what happens when you realise that the world is bigger than you thought—that feeling we all run into when we gradate, or change jobs, or move somewhere new. These are all things that can be stressful for anyone, because the rule book changes and we have to learn what the new-to-us community or neighbours will or won’t accept. In my case, this is something I’m starting to realise is easier when one can understand more than the literal meaning of the words people use.

Now, of course, I have completed my act of trilogy, a common crime against fantasy writing, and Elkie’s world has expanded again. Fox Spirit Books saw fit to release this one into the wild as well and Fool If You Think It’s Over is due out in January. This time, Elkie’s manual needs to expand as she realises that no-one does a favour without expecting something in return. She’s also finally come to that stage of adulthood, required by the plot in order to tie everything up as much as possible, where she’s beginning to realise that much of what is happening is in response to her own reactions in earlier situations. It’s very rare for us to realise the full implications of our choices, and our misunderstandings, until it’s too late to do anything about them. Elkie’s misunderstandings and reacting without forethought has made her realise the manual needs to cover more than werewolves.

Writing Elkie has been about trying to make someone who had an experience that irrevocably moved their expected life-track and left their manual changed in a way that was difficult to get over. After all, 25 werewolves are going to leave a mark. Elkie, like the rest of us, has to deal with the results of every decision and face the next choice with the rules she has already worked out. As the quote goes “generals are always fighting the last war.”

Using first person allowed her to tell me the story in a way that made sense—and pulls the reader (and me) into Elkie’s view of things so that her reactions and mistakes are understandable rather than being just another young person flailing wildly in the dark. If she’d been given a manual, or even the script, in advance, I strongly suspect she would have refused the role.

I know the feeling.

Jo Thomas also has three stories in TFF: “Good Form,” “Hunting Unicorns” and “An Invisible Tide,” and can be found at The Elkie Bernstein trilogy can be purchased from Fox Spirit Books.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Interview with Nick Wood

We are delighted to be joined today by TFF author and friend Nick Wood. We invited him to talk about his stories and, in particular, the dystopian novel “Azanian Bridges” he published this year for NewCon Press. Nick's debut novel has been recommended by the Guardian as one of the best SF story of the year.

Nick Wood is a South African clinical psychologist, with over twenty short stories previously published in Interzone, Infinity Plus, PostScripts, Redstone Science Fiction, Fierce Family and AfroSF V1 and 2 (with Tade Thompson) amongst others. He has a YA speculative fiction book published in South Africa entitled ‘The stone chameleon’ as well as a debut novel ‘AZANIAN BRIDGES’ (NewCon Press: UK). Nick has completed an MA in Creative Writing (SF & Fantasy) through Middlesex University and is currently training clinical psychologists at the University of East London (UEL). He can be found at @nick45wood or

The Future Fire: Your story The Paragon of Knowledge in TFF#33 features a panopticon-like dystopia, disability, race and an almost all-powerful posthuman protagonist who reasonably enough thinks he’s the good guy. Do you think it’s possible to write a story with only one issue? Or even one main issue?

Nick Wood: Well – maybe if it’s a relatively short flash-fic piece – and with a strong unitary focus. Otherwise, with intersectional identities existing in fully formed characters, as well as the complexity of the real world, I think longer stories should reflect at least some thematic density and diversity. The future should have a thick warp and woof, even though we act as if it doesn’t exist.

TFF: In Azanian Bridges, all the characters want to get hold of the incredible empathy box, for different reasons. Would you say that, in the end, no one gets what they were looking for?

NW: Like most ‘real’ life, yes! Even the empathy promised by the Empathy Enhancer ends up being a double-edged sword. As an old Stones song says, ‘you can’t always get what you want.’

TFF: As a psychotherapist, Martin (one of your two protagonists) often tries to use his professional knowledge and training to be in control of critical situations, and mostly fails. Being a psychologist yourself, does this reflect your personal experience at all?

NW: Yes, this reflects my experience as a human being in a world that seems to be unravelling fast. I have managed to get some positive movement in small scenarios, but ‘control’ has its’ downsides too and should not be over-egged, even though arguments have been made that an ‘internal locus of control’ is helpful. (That is, the sense that one is in charge of one’s own ongoing activities and fate.) I prefer control to be opened up and shared, however, to see where that goes, although this may be harder and more anxiety provoking initially. Many African definitions of identity have contextual or relational foci rather than seeing people as individual and controlling islands of identity.

TFF: Martin thinks that empathy has the power to defeat racism; that realising that other people feel exactly as we do would dissolve barriers. Do you think he is an idealist or naive?

NW: I think he is a naïve idealist – he would like us all just to appreciate our common humanity and ‘love one another’. But nothing is that simple, in a world still framed by the benefits and costs of colonisation. Further, in this overpopulated world of disappearing resources, fights between trapped rats on a sinking ship will increase. Unless the shock of rising water on our skins gets us to start co-operating, in order to protect a common but increasingly tenuous future. We humans are pretty good at denial and procrastination, despite our frontal lobes.

TFF: Do you think all white people are “a bit more racist than they think”?

NW: To some extent yes – for a start, most white people aren’t aware of their ‘whiteness’ and will insist on the need to be ‘colour blind’ to avoid racism. They can of course choose to do so – black people are unable to avoid racism and are aware that being ‘colour blind’ is a convenient avoidant excuse, for those privileged enough to be able to use it. So paler persons need to be aware ‘white is a colour too’ (to quote an academic paper by Dr. Nolte) and interrogate their own experience, as it’s so easy to suck in racist attitudes unwittingly from wider societal discourses. In the words of a group at the University of Cape Town, we need to find ways to ‘Disrupt Whiteness,’ in order to move towards real equity.

TFF: If you had the chance, would you actually try the empathy box yourself? And with whom?

NW: I would love to – and I’d do it with another animal, given we are all animals too. There is a dreadful ongoing destruction and killing of our conscious cousins the apes – as well as our other animal relatives, on the back of commodification of their lives. We don’t need to look for aliens elsewhere – they’re all around us, but they are fast being mercilessly exterminated.

TFF: Looking at the news of these past months, how “dystopian” do you think your story really is?

NW: It’s starting to look pretty tame by comparison. See question 10. I actually partly wrote the book to remind people of how close in history apartheid was – and something still so close, but supposedly consigned to ‘history,’ can easily re-emerge in ugly variations.

TFF: There are several foreign, untranslated words in Azanian Bridges. As a reader, I enjoyed them. I believe I even learnt a couple! Why did you decide to use them, and leave them untranslated? What do they add to the narration?

NW: The original attempt was to have the book published in South Africa, where there would have been no problem with the Afrikaans and isiZulu words. Given I ended up going with a UK publisher instead, I tried to ensure meaning was implied through context and these ‘foreign’ words were kept to a sprinkling, so as not to overwhelm the text or the reader. With hindsight, perhaps a glossary may have helped. However, I did write an essay, ‘One Language is Never Enough,’ on the importance of not anglicising everything, something the wonderful writer Rochita Roenen-Luis cued me in to. What other languages add are a crunchiness to the text, they make it harder to gloss over and make assumptions about what you are reading – they do what good SF does, i.e. they remind you this is not a white Anglophone world and that WME (White Minority Ethnic) is actually a more appropriate term in the context of the world than BME.

TFF: What was your reaction when they told you Ursula Le Guin was going to blurb your book? (I think I would have melted!)

NW: Thrilled to bits. She’s a long-standing favourite of mine, since I read her Earthsea books around 14 years of age and moved quickly onto her other ground-breaking works. Her Earthsea opener has a young wizard (Ged) at a school for wizards and written in 1964, long before Harry P. There are six books in the series, taking you through Ged’s lifespan and our relationship with dragons. Gorgeous stuff still.

TFF: You’ve been writing in the world of this novel for a while now. Are you planning a sequel or any other tie-ins, or will your next book be something completely new?

NW: I enjoy shorter fiction too so I’ve written a couple of shorts focusing on the unfolding ecological catastrophe as well as the financial divide between the one and ninety nine percent. I’m also writing a fantasy novella involving a family migrating along the south coast of Africa in post-catastrophic times. After BREXIT and Trump I’ve realised there is plenty of fuel for a British sequel to AZANIAN BRIDGES too – perhaps the break-up of the UK and Farage as English PM, the collapse of BRITANNIC BRIDGES? What a nightmare world we are descending into. Dave Hutchinson’s EUROPE trilogy (perhaps presciently) explores the fragmentation of the EU.

TFF: What is the most spooky or frightening thing that you ever experienced?

NW: Speaking with an archaeologist friend some years ago about an experience he’d had in a hut near a dig he was leading up the southern west coast of South Africa. Tim is a hard-nosed atheist scientist, with a materialist view of reality, but was obviously terrified out of his wits retelling his account of fleeing the hut at night, after an enduring visitation from a malevolent old lady ghost. He said it was either there - or he was losing his sanity. Seeing how grounded and level-headed he is, I was suddenly aware ANYTHING is actually possible. Tim’’s story seems to have been thinly fictionalised subsequently in Peter Merrington’s book Zebra Crossings.

TFF: Would you use a piece of art to tell someone that you love them?

NW: I have already done this on a number of occasions and will readily do so again. As an example, I drew and wrote a comic with a kick-ass heroine lead called ‘Brenda’ – and gave it to my partner ‘Glenda’.

TFF: I’ve seen an article few days ago, advocating the use of virtual reality to enhance empathy and, therefore, dissolve prejudice. You’re probably not surprised to hear that it reminded me of your novel. What do you think about it?

NW: An interesting development indeed and one I thought was probably not too far off when I wrote AZANIAN BRIDGES. I think it’s one way to go, but in and of itself it is unlikely to be enough to substantially change attitudes. As the article points out, you have to entice people into wanting to do engage with this in the first place – I made it into a competitive app game in AB.

Secondly, although the technology is immersive it is not fully immersive, in that you are not privy to their full experiential history, so identification will always remain partial. Thirdly, I’m sure there will be huge individual variation as to how much people identify with the experience of the other, partially based on pre-existing biases and prejudice. Finally, racism is more than a pejorative attitude to another – there is also comfort and privilege afforded to holding on to greater power and access to resources. So people may also actively discount their experiences of the other, in order to keep hold of what they may feel are fragile but ‘equitably earned’ entitlements.

Societal discourses within various institutions may further entrench this positioning. So, just for a start, we need to add another machine – an MM one – the Media Manipulator machine. Yes, I know one already exists in the form of RM, but like the EE machine, this needs to be appropriated by the 99%, to engender alternatives to the Daily Fail of the Sun.

TFF: What other developments would you like to promote?

NW: SIx Key Things (A-F Below):

A. African SFF – the newly launched African Speculative Fiction Society.
Voting is now open for the Nommos, the African SFF Awards. Geoff Ryman has a wonderful unfolding series of ‘100 African Writers of SFF’ at TOR

B. OMENANA – African SFF Magazine:

C. The work of Chinelo Onwualu – Chinelo not only edits Omenana but is also a wonderful writer. She is also co-editing ANATHEMA, a apeculative fiction magazine of work by queer POC, which has just met its Kickstarter goals. There is an extremely interesting podcast interview with her here.

D. ROSEWATER – Tade Thompson – A brilliant re-envisioning of an alien invasion narrative. A textured and gritty immersive world, with evocative words that puts VR technology to shame. This is set in Nigeria, like the Lagos-invasion of Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘LAGOON’, but ROSEWATER also shows how much difference two wonderful writers can bring, to what may look superficially like similar themes and setting.

E. Short African SFF, a selected some DOZEN significant anthologies/persons are:
  1. Hartmann, Ivor (Ed.) ‘AfroSF’, V1 (Short SFF) and V2 (FIVE Novellas);
  2. Arigbabu, Ayodele (Ed.) ‘Lagos 2060’

  3. Dilman Dila ‘A Killing in the Sun’
  4. Nnedi Okorafor: ‘Kabu Kabu’

  5. Lauren Beukes: ‘Slipping’

  6. Nerine Dorman (Ed) ‘Terra Incognita’ (Short Story Day Africa)

  7. Jalada – Afrofuture(s):
  8. Nerine Dorman (Ed.): ‘Bloody Parchments’
  9. Billy Kahora (Ed.) ‘Imagine Africa 500’
  10. Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso: ‘Haunted Graves and Other Stories’
  11. Shadreck Chikoti – writer and key driver for Malawian SFF

  12. Wole Talabi - writer and also keeps a SFF short list at OMENANA. Here is also an overview of his favourite short African SF
  13. For a baker’s dozen, I’m keenly waiting the first African SFF short collection by women writers – Chinelo Onwualu?

F. Comics
  1. I have a round-up of South African comics here: 
SF in SA (28) ‘Is There Such a Thing as South African Comics?’
  2. The Comic Republic:
  3. KWEZI is making giant waves in South Africa right now:
  4. Chimurenga Chronic: The Corpse Exhibition and older graphic stories

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Interview with A.C. Buchanan

With just a few days to go on the fundraiser for the gender diverse pronouns issue of Capricious SF magazine, we had another chat with our friend A.C. Buchanan, the editor in chief, to find out more about the magazine, the theme, pronouns and diversity, the skies and beyond!

A.C. Buchanan lives just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. They're the author of Liquid City and Bree’s Dinosaur and their short fiction has most recently been published in Unsung Stories, the Accessing the Future anthology from and the Paper Road Press anthology At the Edge. Because there’s no such thing as too many projects, they also co-chair LexiCon 2017 and edit the speculative fiction magazine Capricious. You can find them on twitter at @andicbuchanan or at

We asked A.C. a few questions.

TFF: Capricious magazine has now been going for five issues. Have there been any surprises (good or otherwise) in how things have turned out so far, how difficult editing has been, the reception you’ve received?

ACB: There have been lots of surprises, but most of them have been minor—we received more submissions, especially at the start, than I expected, for example, and themes began to emerge in some issues even when not intended, and some aspects—like subscription numbers—were so hard to predict that I only had rough ideas in my head at the start. While not everything has gone entirely to plan, I’m really happy with how things have come together. I’ve had the opportunity to publish some amazing work, and made some great connections.

Tell us a bit about the diverse pronouns themed issue? This won’t be the first gender diversity to appear in the magazine, will it?

ACB: Over the past few years, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about how gender diversity is portrayed in fiction. I’ve also heard comments from readers that gender diverse pronouns aren’t easily understood, and from writers that they’re hesitant to use them in fiction, sometimes because they don’t know how, but more commonly because they’re concerned editors won’t be receptive. I firmly believe that gender diverse language is essential to portray our own world accurately, and even more important when we imagine other worlds and possible futures. So I’m hoping to put together a double issue (around 8 stories, depending on length) of science fiction and fantasy stories which all use gender diverse pronouns.

As you rightly point out, such stories are not new to Capricious. Our first two issues included “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács and “Moments of Light” by Toby MacNutt, both of which use multiple sets of gender diverse pronouns. I haven’t been keeping detailed stats on authors’ identities, but I do know that four (out of twenty) used gender diverse pronouns in their author bios. This special issue is very much not a one off; it’s highlighting just one aspect of the diversity of perspectives that is so important to Capricious, and which I’m working to increase.

Is there a particular audience (of authors or readers) you’re hoping to reach with this issue?

ACB: I hope stories like these become less and less niche; non-binary characters shouldn’t be only for a specific audience any more than female or male characters, and gender diverse pronouns should be as uncontroversial as adverbs (thought it’s possible that adverbs are more controversial than I realise…). But I particularly hope the issue’s audience includes other gender diverse people who love science fiction and fantasy, writers who might be encouraged to use such language in the future, and people who are unfamiliar with gender diverse language but, by the time they’ve finished reading, know a little more.

I have occasionally seen non-binary pronouns (in particular invented pronouns) used in stories as a marker for alienness—look how different from humans they are! They have more than two sexes! Do you think there is a problem with this sort of representation, if it doesn’t bring any real-world enby experience with it?

ACB: I’d love to see stories that depict the different ways alien societies might conceptualise gender and how it is or isn’t linked to their biological make-up or reproductive mechanisms. But sometimes those types of stories imply that all human genders are binary and cis and that all human societies understand gender in the same way, or conflate non-binary genders and intersex bodies, often exoticising those bodies as well, and I’d advise readers to steer clear of that. Stories don’t need to focus on human gender diversity—but they shouldn’t invisibilise it either.

Can you recommend any good, already published stories or poems that use diverse gender and non-binary pronouns in novel ways?

ACB: I’d particularly like to recommend Nino Cipri’s “A Silly Love Story” and “Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg, both of them stories I love for many reasons. Cipri describes a genderfluid character, using different pronouns at different times, while Lemberg imagines a world where (as in our own) multiple languages are spoken, languages which are gendered in different ways and have different ranges of pronouns.

What other plans do you have for Capricious magazine in the future?

ACB: The priority, of course, is to keep publishing, and make each issue the best it can be, with more great fiction, non-fiction, and cover art. But although I’ve no specific plans just yet, I’m hoping this won’t be the only special issue in our future - and I’m looking at getting some guest editors on board as well.

What about your own fiction? What are you working on just now—what do we have to look forward to?

ACB: I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo for the first time in several years! It’s fun to be back in that social, fast-writing space. I’m working on the third in a trilogy of novellas/short novels that began with Liquid City. I always have short fiction on the go - I have a flash piece called Syren Song that will be published in Kaleidotrope next year - and I’ve been experimenting a bit with interactive fiction recently as well.

If you could shut down the power so we all just have to stare at the night, would you?

ACB: This feels very timely; after a week of earthquakes and storms I’ve been revisiting emergency plans and going through the “what ifs”. And the honest, not very poetic answer is... I just really like the internet. I like infrastructure, and I like the ways technology assists my not-always co-operative brain.

That said, I love to see the stars; I’m lucky to live in an area with relatively little light pollution and I’m privileged to have visited more than one Dark Sky Reserve. So when it can be done safely and in a way that is attentive to people’s various needs, I’m in favour of… not turning off the lights, but maybe just dimming them a little.

What would be the most terrifying thing about being in outer space? And what would be the best?

ACB: Oooh, good question! Aside from the obvious dangers, there’s the potential totality of loss of communication. The knowledge that if something does go wrong, others may never know what happened to you, and that’s something that scares me if I think about it too much. The best thing is perhaps indicated by the fact that when I write about space travel, I always have a sense there’s something missing, something quite different from anything I’ve experienced. I feel like there would be something entirely new about it which I will never be able to predict.

The etymology for “capricious” that you cite from the Collins doesn’t sound entirely convincing, but it’s adorably bizarre! If you had to choose, would you prefer a true story, or a good one?

ACB: I think the best stories are both true and invented at the same time. Ones that are far enough away from reality that they help us see it more clearly.

Thanks for joining us, A.C.!

You can support or pre-order the gender diverse pronouns issue of Capricious magazine from Indiegogo, or visit Capricious online.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Interview with Don Riggs

Don Riggs is an occasional reviewer for TFF-R, as well as poet, scholar, teacher, aficionado of monsters and Alice in Wonderland adaptations. We’ve been working with Don for a couple years now, so we thought we’d invite him over to talk a bit about his work and passions.

Don Riggs went to Dickinson College where he studied Myth, the University of North Carolina where he studied Comparative Literature (Medieval), taught French in South Carolina, was a massage therapist in Mechanicsburg, Pa., taught Humanities and Art History at Harrisburg Area Community College, earned an M.A. in English/Creative Writing/Poetry, and has taught English at Drexel University in Philadelphia. His books of poetry include Bilateral Asymmetry (Texture Press, 2014) and Made of Words (Faurit din cuvinte) (Orizont Literar Contemporan, 2015). He analyzed John Langdon’s Alice and the Graceful White Rabbit at Cambridge University in 2015.

We asked Don a few questions.

The Future Fire: Who was your favourite mythical hero or heroine when you were young?

Don Riggs: Depending upon your definition of "mythical," it would either be Bilbo Baggins, the DC Comics Superhero Green Lantern, the fairy tale anonymous Little Tailor (of "Seven at One Blow"), or Merlin (are any of those mythical, strictly speaking?). I equivocate because, as an undergraduate, I pursued a self-developed interdepartmental major in Myth (I think it was called "Myth in the Western Tradition"). For that, I studied many theories on Myth, including that of Northrop Frye, who distinguishes different historical periods including: the Mythic (where the protagonists are gods), Romance (where the protagonists are demigods, like Hercules), High Mimetic (where the heroes are human beings of elevated status, like Oedipus, Agamemnon, etc.), Low Mimetic (where the protagonists are "ordinary people," like so many of us, neither gods nor despicables), and Ironic (where the protagonists or heroes are subhuman, like Gregor Samsa who, after a night of troubled dreams, awoke to find himself transformed into some disgusting vermin). Bilbo Baggins is Everyhobbit, and I would think of him as Low Mimetic, thus not mythic—at least, in that sense. Merlin I would find a hero (well, a prominent character) of Romance, and possibly Green Lantern as well.

What attracted you to speculative fiction in the first place?

DR: The world they lived and moved in was magical. Also, the Dutch expression, "Als je ben niet sterk, je moet slim zijn" (If you are not strong, you must be smart) worked more obviously in that kind of fiction than it did in my experience of reality. Again, Bilbo Baggins provided me with a model, as a "courage-teacher" (borrowing the term from Ginsberg, re Whitman). There was an element of the uncanny that operated quasi-naturally in speculative fiction, such as the incident, in Sigurd of the Volsungs, when Sigurd is roasting the heart of the dragon Fafnir over the fire (I picture him holding his sword, with the dragon's heart skewered on it), and touches it with his finger to see if it is done: naturally, he burns his finger and immediately brings it to his mouth to cool; having tasted the dragon's blood, he understands the language of the birds, and he hears one telling another that it's too bad he's going to give the roasted heart to Regin, who will then kill him, so he eats it himself and kills Regin. That very realistic sucking his burnt finger leading immediately to understanding the language of the birds is emblematic of what I love about speculative literature.

What monster lives under your bed?

DR: For years now I have slept on a futon directly on the floor, squeezing out whatever monster. However, before that, it was something faceless but with grasping hands. Probably something in the style of Arthur Rackham. If you look at Rackham's monsters from Rossetti's "Goblin Market," you will see some very uncomfortable images; also, from Matthias Grunewald's "The Temptation of St. Anthony," as well as Bosch's depiction of the same matter, and lo and behold Max Ernst did a temptation of St. A. as well. All of those monsters qualify for me as scary as need be…

What ring would you add to Dante’s inferno?

DR: The ring of the Deadly Dull, who do whatever they can to squash imagination and creativity. The ring of the freshmen who regularly introduce themselves to me by saying they want, or expect, or will be too hard-working not to get an A. They will sit there, grading endless piles of freshman writing, impelled by the independently moving forefinger and thumb to circle every error, discuss any divergence from clarity. At the same time, the grader will be gripped by a paralyzing sense of guilt, even before anything happens. And after having graded the enormous pile, student after student will come up begging to do "extra work" to help "bring the grade up."

What artist, dead or alive, do you think would have been the best choice to illustrate Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings?

DR: The artist, whose name I don't know, who illustrated his first edition of "Farmer Giles of Ham," the quasi-medieval drawing style. I also think Arthur Rackham would have been good, but as for painters, the evil spawn of Morgoth and Sauron would have been done well by Francis Bacon. The good characters (Gandalf, Aragorn etc.) would have been well illustrated by John Trumbull (cf. his "Battle of Bunker Hill").

What is the first rule of storytelling that you teach in your classes?

DR: I don't teach any rules; I hope that I exemplify them when I read out loud to the class. I do this often, and perhaps this is the rule: storytelling is a spoken art form, with music and expressiveness in the delivery.

Now give us an example of when to break that rule!

DR: When you are reading silently to yourself, late at night, to the light of one lamp only, and you are transfixed by watching the world unfold around you in you mind and beyond.

Don (R) with John Langdon (L)
and the Rabbit (C)
You have spoken and written about several modern adaptations of Alice in Wonderland. Which of the countless re-writings is the most unusual you’ve come across?

DR: John Langdon's Alice and the Graceful White Rabbit, currently the object of a kickstarter fundraiser. Langdon retells "Alice" with a densely woven overlay of allusions, evocations, and puns tying the original story to a layer of classic rock songs.

And which is your favourite Alice?

DR: The original, with the Tenniel illustrations.

Are you a poet who also teaches, or an academic who also versifies?

DR: A poet who also teaches, but I must admit that my day job takes the vast majority of my time and energy. Still, I write my 14-line poem every morning, and it's no longer a question of needing discipline to do it; I simply do it as inevitably as I get up in the morning. My thought is that I will continue writing long after I have retired from teaching (though I can't afford to do that for a long time, if ever!).

How do myth, monsters, illustration and/or scholarship influence your own poetry?

DR: My three self-published chapbooks (Walks, 1983; Hermenoodles, 1988; Self-Portraits in Words and Images, 1997) have at least one illustration (by me) on each page, with each poem, while Self-Portraits are calligrammes, where the lettering of the poems are also the lines of the drawings. Left is an example. Another is from Poems for the Writing, by Fox and Levin, illustrated by Don Riggs.

The cover of my book of poems, Bilateral Asymmetry (2014), illustrates how monsters sometimes fit in; I like dragons but don't feel comfortable writing about them; ordinary things become monsters in my poems, as in "Dialogue of the Hands": The right hand, in a fit / of characteristic pride, / yelled at the left hand, / "You foot!" / --the most devastating curse it knew. / The feet stood by, / silent as oxen. (from Walks 1983).

Scholarship is impossible to weed out from my poetry, because I write about what I know, and therefore refer to things I've read and seen in my research. For example:

2. Made of Words

Mon cher Edgar, poems are made of words,
said Mallarmé to Degas, when Degas’d said
he’d such great ideas for poems, but
they never worked out.
                                      Just as a painting
is made up of brushstrokes, he could well have
pointed out, not some puffy-eyed woman
sitting dispirited behind absinthe
next to a red-nosed, scruffy, bearded man

decades the worse for Bohemian wear,
the memories of his student days dabs
of color on the fragmented fog of his
             Life flows by on the sidewalk
as her gaze glazes over. He shrewdly
speculates on how he can score some opium.

That is from Made of Words which was published in Bucharest in 2015, with facing-page Romanian translation.

You’ve been reviewing for TFF-R for a couple of years now. What moment stands out for you, of the items you’ve reviewed?

DR: The moment that first springs to mind is my review of Anna Patrick's Meditations in Wonderland (2015), because it came for review just after John Langdon and I had come back from Cambridge, where I had read my paper on his version of Alice. That immersion in the original material at the conference and in my paper on the Langdon version put me in a perfect situation to see what Anna Patrick was doing in her really quite incredible—and very different—version of Alice.

What's the most interesting thing you have ever found in the garbage?

DR: Whoa. What a question. I think a letter that a woman whom I had yearned for had written me after a visit: the letter itself was extremely understated, but the underlying emotion was incredibly powerful. (It was in a box of materials I had intended to throw out, but had only made it as far as the attic.)

What are you working on now? Anything forthcoming to look forward to?

DR: I'm preparing myself to interview Samuel Delany in mid-December, so when I have the chance I'm reading as much of his work and works about him as possible.

I'm reading a novel by Alex Kudera, Auggie's Revenge (2015), to write a review for a publication in Romania (I don't know the name of the journal).

I'm getting ready to write a paper on Peter Jackson's series of videoblogs that he made to prepare the way for the release of his first Hobbit movie (An Unexpected Journey). I am looking at the series of videoblogs, released in ten units over the 20 months preceding the release of the first film, as a campaign to create a viewership/community to anticipate the release of the film, using Henry Jenkins's theory of intermedia outlined in his book Convergence Culture, and I will present this paper at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, FL in March 2017.

I have been posting a daily poem on my Facebook page for well over a year now, and I'm getting ready to publish a number of them in a collection of Facebook Poems in the near future. Whether I will illustrate them depends upon how much time I have.

Many thanks for joining us, Don!

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Roundtable: Polyamory in SF/F

Speculative Fiction Writers Discuss Polyamory and Diversity

Moderator Su J. Sokol, author of the Sunburst Award-nominated Cycling to Asylum, speaks with panelists Redfern Jon Barrett, Jacqueline Koyanagi, B R Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver.

Su J Sokol (SJS): Polyamory in speculative fiction is nothing new, but some would say it’s been enjoying something of a renaissance. What’s your analysis? Also, do you see differences between past depictions of polyamory and what you’ve been seeing more recently?

Redfern Jon Barrett (RJB): There's absolutely a sweeping transformation going on right now with polyamory and the media. I think it was inevitable as same-sex marriage became more widely accepted—those doom and gloom homophobes who screamed that 'polygamy will be next' weren't so far off the mark (as they bitterly pointed out in British and Irish newspaper columns in response to my calls for polyamory rights.) Much of the public has accepted love between consenting adults, and if there's nothing wrong with two men or two women being in love, well, why not more than that? It's prompted huge interest. As for how they're depicted, I think it depends on the writer's class, gender, and social views more than time. There are works created now which show a very patriarchal mode of polyamory, and works in the 70s which are very queer and egalitarian. The main thing that's changed is the language used, particularly since the word 'polyamory' started being used in the 90s.

B R Sanders (BRS): Definitely we've seen polyamory represented before. There is Poul Anderson's Virgin Planet. There is Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It's been around forever, but what's historically bubbled to the surface has struck me as a very male gaze-y portrayal and understanding of what polyamory could be.

I don't know that the frequency with which polyamory has been represented has changed, but I would say that the way it's been represented has begun to shift. I still see the kind of male-gaze-SO-SHOCKING-PUSHING-THE-ENVELOPE type depictions, but sprinkled in amongst them, are kinder, slyer, and often queerer depictions. Normalized depictions. These newer depictions are more often rooted in the nuts and bolts of relationships, relationships that feel lived in and populated by distinct individuals. The older ones are statements and idealizations rather than real relationships, and the participants are interchangeable.

SJS: Another question I have is whether you think that polyamory is more present in speculative fiction—particularly in dystopian and utopian fiction—than it is in general or mimetic fiction, and if so, why you think that is.

RJB: As a writer I’ve found that speculative fiction often grants us freedoms the present can't allow, a space in which alternate ways of living can gain a greater sympathy from the reader than one which might conflict with their idea of how things should be done right now. Somehow 'what can be' is less threatening than 'what we can change more immediately.' I think that's the reason polyamory (along with a whole host of other issues) turns up more frequently in future-based fiction. My first novel Forget Yourself was speculative for that exact reason, as were many of my short stories. People approach speculative and science fiction with an open mind.

A year ago I gave a paper for a polyamory conference in Lisbon, in which I explored ethical nonmonogamy in utopian science fiction. This led to two works in particular: Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). I think Piercy's queer feminist vision presents the stronger basis for a poly future, but we can see through Heinlein's book how influential such works can be, as it sparked many 'free love' groups and movements in the decades that followed.

Perhaps it's because the future has such potential as a place of hope: we're more willing to believe in an alternative if it's a little distanced from the world we live in now.

SJS: Yes! So much of what you say here resonates with me. And it's cool that you mention Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. This is one of my absolutely favourite novels. I read it when I was very young and it influenced my thinking a lot, as well as my own writing. In fact, like Piercy's book, my novel Cycling to Asylum presents both a dystopian and utopian vision of the future at the same time, though in my story I use two different cities—New York and Montréal—to do this. (Can you guess which is which?)

I’d forgotten about the poly aspect of Piercy's utopian society! It's funny, because my novel also includes the beginnings of a strong poly relationship between my two main adult characters and a third character. And it’s true what you said, Redfern—I did feel freer to express my political ideas, including about non-traditional relationships, in the context of a near-future speculative fiction novel. But now I’ve written a new manuscript that puts the type of MMF triad I'd created in Cycling into the story in a very front-and-centre way. I’m not sure I could’ve done that without having written the speculative fiction story first. And I do think that people consider my new manuscript to be more risqué because it is contemporary, mimetic fiction instead of SFF. (OK, and maybe also because it has a lot of explicit sexual content.)

RoAnna, what are your thoughts? I understand that you like to write "oddly hopeful dystopia books." Can you also tell us about that?

RoAnna Sylver (RS): I think that Redfern is onto something, absolutely: Spec-fic gives us freedom to express ourselves in ways we can't in modern-day/realistic fiction. Readers do seem to find poly or otherwise-nonconventional relationships 'more risque' here than if they're SFF. Sometimes it's easier to accept the unfamiliar if it's in the future or another planet, or 'just a dream.' I like the more optimistic way Redfern put it, though, that "people approach speculative and science fiction with an open mind."

I don't think I've seen many poly characters or relationships in utopian or dystopian fiction. Maybe writers want their dys/utopian worlds to be relatively close to reality, and including 'unrealistic' relationships and/or marginalized identities might break readers' suspension of belief. At least readers who don't fall into the above identities ... which is a sad thought. Better, more varied representation is the answer again. See enough of us, and the world will know we're no more extraordinary than any other human, certainly not an alien or magical being. We're cool, but not unrealistic!

Thank you for asking about my 'oddly hopeful' dystopian books! There's a ton of dystopian fiction around now, probably because the world can be a scary place. It serves a purpose. We need to express our fear. But we also need to know hope still exists. In Chameleon Moon, everyone has been imprisoned inside a city called Parole, and left to die above a lake of fire. Parole is a visual metaphor of living while marginalized through identity, orientation, disabilities/chronic illnesses. It is about isolation, pain, fear —and hope, survival through love. A warning, and a reassurance. Look where we're heading, in many cases, already there. But look how much we can survive. Look how strong we are already, how beautiful, how lovely, how brave.

SJS: Thanks, RoAnna, that sounds great. So what do folks believe are some of the most common misconceptions about polyamory? Do you address these misconceptions in your writing, and if so, how do you do that?

RJB: The misconception on polyamory I find most troubling is the unending assumption that it's all and only about sex. Yes, sex can be a significant and wonderful part of our relationships, but it's called polyamory for a reason—if we were simply looking for sex then we'd just have open relationships. In reality there are many types of bonds covered in polyamorous webs and constellations, and not all of them are sexual. Some very romantic, deep, and involved loves I've had have been entirely free from any kind of sex, and that's not to mention the fact that many asexual people are polyamorous.

It bothers me because that the same societal drive to limit discussions on polyamorous people to the sex they have is one which has long been used against those of us in the LGBTQ community. It's getting better, but focusing only on the sex queer people have rather than the love we share has long been used as a means of marginalising, dismissing, and mocking us, and I fear that the same tactic is being used against poly individuals. Even many of my own friends and relatives did the same at first, until they saw my family and how happy we are--and really that's the way to counter these assumptions. Familiarity brings understanding, not contempt.

That's why, when writing about polyamory in my novel The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights I made sure to focus on the nonsexual romantic love which develops between two heterosexual roommates Richard and Dom, and the relationship they build together and with Dom's girlfriend Caroline. It's weird and new and it takes a great deal of adjustment, but it's recognising different forms of love and celebrating them which can truly allow us to move on both as individuals and a society, in all its bizarre diversity. There are speculative snippets throughout looking into the changes in their lives and to the world around them, exploring how attitudes to polyamory might change in the future.

BRS: So the biggest thing to learn about relationships in general is that they are all different, and what's true in one does not necessarily hold true in another. Polyamory makes this necessarily more complex since it factors in more people. My polyamory doesn't look like someone else's polyamory. And my polyamory with one partner doesn't really look like my polyamory with another partner. It's all a negotiation, a work in progress, a series of moving parts. Its biggest commonality is that its a huge amount of communication and transparency (mine is, anyway). It's not easy, but it's rewarding, and it works for me.

I tried to get this across in my book Ariah. Ariah, Sorcha, and Shayat each have to negotiate their relationships with each other as their triad begins to form and change. It happens pretty organically, but it also happens in a cultural space that doesn't have room for what they are trying to do--and they aren't going to be able to do it without talking it through it and being on the same page.

I also want to echo what Redfern Jon Barrett said about polyamory being reduced to sex. As an asexual person, for me, reducing polyamory to sex is deeply erasing. I am not in it for sex; my partners are not with me for sex. There is a qualitative difference in the kind of love I have for them and how I feel about my friends.

SJS: Yes, those kind of misunderstandings can be very harmful. I wonder—is polyamory one of those areas where it’s better not to write about it if you are from outside of that community, so to speak? Or is this something that anyone could write about, regardless of their actual relationship histories?

RS: I feel like with any marginalized identity, someone writing their own experience is going to be the most direct and realistic expression—ideally, many different expressions, since no identity is a singular entity and everyone experiences them in different ways. My experience of being poly will inevitably be different than somebody else's, and the only way to get an ‘authentic’ picture of what it's really like is to have as many of these voices heard as possible. That said, I don't think it's absolutely necessary for somebody to be established in the community (which can be hard to find sometimes, even with the aid of the internet) or have 'experience' to write about polyamory. It certainly helps, but experiences are such a spectrum (and the 'am I ___ enough' hurdle is steep) and good representation itself is so rare that I think whenever SFF with positive/accurate/well-written poly characters and storylines exist, it's cause for celebration. (And I've seen it happen more times than I can count with my own friends: if a writer is exploring these themes with a serious and genuine draw/interest/importance, not just chasing a trend, they're probably questioning themselves. If a non-poly writer ends up 'in the community' before long, I wouldn't be surprised.)

BRS: I think it's like anything else, really—as long as you do your homework, you can write about it really well. And that goes for being both inside and outside of a particular community. I am poly, but that doesn't mean that I am necessarily going to write about this well. I could have a very narrow perspective on it if I didn't step back and think about it and explore multiple angles of it. I think by virtue of being within a certain community you are more likely to be exposed to the multiplicity of a given community and therefore less likely to fall prey to stereotypes about that community in your writing—but it's not a given. It's really about doing the legwork. I think, as writers, there's a kind of Hippocratic Oath at play: a first, do no harm ethos. Make sure you interrogate why you want to write about a certain group of people, then make sure you talk to those people and understand what life is actually like for them.

SJS: There are some people who believe that monogamy is a more natural or desirable state or institution, whereas others may believe that a polyamorous lifestyle is the more natural and/desirable. Would you say that your inclusion of polyamorous relationships in your writing is more descriptive or prescriptive? What do you think, Jacqueline?

Jacqueline Koyanagi (JK): I aim for descriptive depictions; the last thing I'm interested in is prescriptively encouraging people to pursue one relationship path over another. If I want to encourage anything, it's the idea that nourishing relationships are best found after conscious self-examination. What do you want? What do you need? What can you offer others in relationship? Where are you growing and how does that fit into your patterns of behavior? Instead of swallowing what we're prescribed by culture without question, let's figure out what works for us and move forward from there. It may turn out that what one wants is perfectly in line with what culture teaches us, but it's often the case that we have to carve out a place for our needs and desires that doesn't quite gel with tradition. Whether that place involves monogamy, polyamory, or some other relationship style ... well, that's up to you and the people you become involved with.

SJS: Yeah, I'm pretty sure we can all agree that forcing people to be, for instance, either monogamous or polyamorous would be a bad idea. Yet, at the same time, I am curious to know if there are other thoughts on this question. People may legitimately feel that certain types of relationship styles are more or less likely to be healthy or sustainable. For instance, Redfern: Having read some of your writing—including both of your novels and, especially, the short story "Liquid Loyalty"—I do get some sense that you have more of an "advocacy" stance on this subject.

RJB: Wow, I'm really flattered that you've read all that! I have been a strong advocate for polyamory, but at the same time I agree with both of you —it should be about choice, not enforced transformation. I've long believed the polyamory-monogamy spectrum to be a form of orientation—a romantic orientation—where some people are innately more suited to polyamory, some to monogamy, with many people being more flexible and falling somewhere in the middle. I've campaigned so that people have the option to be who they are, however they love. Fiction is a wonderful tool for spreading that kind of awareness. The more people become familiar with and understand polyamory, the more they can open up to who they potentially are, or if they're more mongamously inclined, the more likely they are to accept those who are different. It might be idealistic, but I really believe we can reach the same level of tolerance and equality which has been achieved so far with same-sex relationships.

SJS: There are many possible types of polyamorous relationships, structures, and institutions, and some of them resonate quite differently than others. Can you speak about representations of polyamory that you’d like to see more of, as well as some that you might like to see less?

JK: Really, with any representation—be it relationship style or anything else—I want to see diverse depictions. I don't just want to see polyamorous triads, I don't just want to see hierarchical polyamory, I don't just want to see relationship anarchy or solo polyamory. I want to see it all. I want us to explore the myriad ways we can organize relationships, reject organization, and/or manifest something entirely unpredictable. I want to see relationships with diverse races and genders and religions or lack thereof. I want to see relationships of mixed sexual orientations, and the challenges that can arise thereof. I want to see it all.

SJS Very beautifully put, Jacqueline! How about you RoAnna? Are there relationships or related social structures that you are longing to see more of in fiction? And could you also speak about things that you are less anxious to find in stories—for instance, tired tropes, depictions that reinforce negative stereotypes, or any other representations that you could do without seeing again?

RS: Jacqueline's answer is spot-on. There are as many kinds of poly relationships in the world as there are people in them! I want to see more 'more' as well, especially mixed orientations and relationship dynamics. Queerplatonic relationships as well—I don't remember ever having seen one in a book; that would mean a lot. Here too, diverse representations of any experience is always better. You get to ‘feel more parts of the elephant,’ as it were. Anything that demonstrates the richness and vastness of who we are. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, to borrow a Trek-phrase.

Here's one of the very few songs I know that actually talks about polyamory—and it illustrates another point. "The Perils of Poly," by Bone Poets Orchestra/Gaia Consort.
I find the song cute and fun, but by the bridge ("hot bi babe/chasing everybody like they're candied fruit", "what's got us terrified is that we'll really fall in love") I'm rolling my eyes. Because yeah, that's what everybody thinks, 9 times out of 10, that the be-all is casual hookups. Sure, that's a valid experience, but when that's the only picture anyone has, it's a little discouraging. I want more in fiction, of all kinds. I'd especially like to see healthy and realistic poly, people working out their problems, communicating, and coming to resolutions.

SJS: I just checked out the video. Thanks for adding a bit of fun and music to our panel discussion, RoAnna, and yeah, I hear you!

So are there other types of non-traditional relationships folks think should be better represented in speculative fiction or fiction in general?

BRS: I would love to see asexuality and asexual people in relationships written about more and with more depth and plurality. There are definitely tropes there to avoid (that ace people are broken, or cold, or incapable of romance or relationships). But ace people do exist and do have families and lovers.

JK: I'd like to echo BR's call for more asexual representation. I've only recently come out publicly about my own asexuality, in part due to the myriad misconceptions that slam into you the moment you start talking about it. Both asexuality and non-monogamy are far more diverse than stereotypes suggest; we've barely scratched the surface in fiction. I'd also like to see more stories in which the gradient between friendship and romance is blurred, or where friendship is a deliberate, ongoing commitment the way romance is. More characters hopping off the relationship escalator, or at least interrogating and dismantling their assumptions about relationships so that they might build something of their own.

RS: Relationships with neurodiverse and/or disabled people are incredibly important, to me personally, and to see in general. Both between two or more ND/disabled people, and able-bodied/neurotypical people. It's something we don't get nearly enough of and therefore there's very little understanding of physically or mentally ill people/how we interact and fit together in what can be incredibly meaningful, beautiful relationships. Or any concept of how we can have amazing adventures or be heroes, or attractive/romantically desirable. My feelings here are similar to the ones I have about polyamorous characters being left out of so much fiction, or LGBT in general—audiences are being robbed of awesome characters and stories, and we're not being seen for the whole, multidimensional people we are. I want every poly/lgbt/disabled reader to know exactly how valid they are. Sometimes it's the first time you've ever heard or felt it, and that is the most important feeling in the world.


 Su J. Sokol is an activist, a cyclist, and a writer of speculative and interstitial fiction. A former legal services lawyer from New York City, she immigrated to Canada with her family in 2004 and now makes Montréal her home. Her debut novel, Cycling to Asylum, was long-listed for the 2015 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Su’s new manuscript, Run J Run, is about the conventions of friendship, polyamorous love, chosen family, and the treatment of the mentally injured in our society.

 Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett a polyamory rights campaigner and author to novels The Giddy Death of the Gays & the Strange Demise of Straights (finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards) and Forget Yourself. They currently divide their time between Britain and Berlin, where they live with their two partners.

 Jacqueline Koyanagi writes science fiction and fantasy featuring queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles. Her debut novel, Ascension, was released from Masque/Prime books at the end of 2013, and landed on the 2014 James Tiptree Jr. Honor List. Folks can find her work at, and she’s active on Twitter @jkoyanagi.

 Pronouns: they/them/their. B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. B writes about queer elves, mostly, as featured in their two novels, the award-winning ARIAH and their debut novel RESISTANCE, both of which are set in the same universe. Their writing can be found here:

 RoAnna Sylver (Amazon) is passionate about stories that give hope, healing and even fun for LGBT, disabled and other marginalized people, and thinks we need a lot more. Aside from writing oddly hopeful dystopia books, she is a blogger, artist, singer and voice actor. She lives with family and a small snorking dog, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. She has recently released a rewritten 2nd edition of Chameleon Moon, which she says is a lot more true to myself and the original intent—and has a lot more poly/nonbinary/asexual-explicit content.

Monday 14 November 2016

Virtual pirate fest!

© J.J. at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Ahoy there, me skullduggerin’ hearties!

You may already have seen the campaign for Piracity: an anthology of pirate-themed SFF stories from authors in Bristol and the Caribbean, edited by Joanne Hall and Roz Clarke and to be published by Wizard’s Tower Press if successful. It’ll be a great project, and you should of course back it if you can afford to, to get the chance to read some lovely stories.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to have fun while spreading word about a good project at the same time, we’re going to hold a virtual pirate fest next weekend. Would you like to join us?

We’ll have some kind of party, perhaps in a pub, perhaps in someone’s house, where some of us dress/act/talk like pirates, just for the laugh. We’ll post pictures to social media, so others can join in wherever in the world you all are. We’ll mention the #Piracity hashtag and/or the link to the Kickstarter as we go, so our friends know what we’re partying about. If you want to play, feel free to organize your own party, tell us about it if you like, and post your own pictures to the same hashtag on Twitter, FB, Tumblr, or your social media of choice (with the link somewhere in the thread if possible). Let us know, and we’ll repost you at some point over the weekend as well. It’s only a virtual fest if we all play and have fun together!

(By the way, we do realize that some of you will be marking Trans Day of Remembrance this weekend. Indeed, Cheryl Morgan, who owns Wizard’s Tower, will be attending TDoR ceremonies in Bath and Bristol on Thursday and Friday night. We fully understand and respect the need of the trans community to mark this important occasion. Cheryl tells us that after two very sombre events she could do with a night of relaxation at the weekend. If others among you have a similar need to unwind we’re happy to provide an excuse.)

Sunday 30 October 2016

New Issue 2016.38

“We know how precious the water is. We know that we must stand for the water. Every time we drink water, we remind ourselves how important the water is. Don’t you do that?”

—Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
 [ Issue 2016.38; Cover art © 2016 Martin Hanford ]

Issue 2016.38

Short stories

E-book versions coming soon

Review this issue on Goodreads

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Support Capricious Magazine's gender-diverse pronoun fundraiser

Our friend A.C. Buchanan (whose powerful story “Puppetry” was in the Accessing the Future anthology last year) and who edits Capricious magazine of literary speculative fiction and criticism, is currently running a fundraiser on Indiegogo to pay pro-rates for a special issue of speculative stories which not only use gender diverse pronouns, but embrace them and celebrate the diversity of gender. Capricious is a lovely magazine, and this looks like being a great issue. We urge readers to support if you possibly can, pre-order an e- or print copy, a story critique from the award-winning editor, or even a fuzzhog! A.C. came by to tell us a little bit more about their thinking behind this issue.
The fuzzhog, © 2016, A.C. Buchanan

When I talk about the use of gender diverse pronouns (like singular they, sie/hir, e/eir, or many other options) in fiction, I’m usually met with one of two responses. One is excitement and interest, perhaps by non-binary people who see opportunities for people like them to be better represented, perhaps by those who see potential for worldbuilding and exploring different conceptions of gender, or maybe by those who are simply interested in language. The other is more cynical: “I don’t understand them” or “they’re all new and invented language” or “they’re confusing to the reader.”

There’s something circular about these more negative perspectives. If too many people—be they editors or readers—are wary and confused by gender diverse language, then not enough gets written or published, which means people stay wary and unfamiliar. Readers who want to see people like them and their friends represented—or just that there’s a possible alternative to dominant ideas about gender—can’t find the stories they need, perhaps don’t even know what to look for.

As a non-binary person, gender diverse language is essential for describing my reality; as a speculative fiction writer and editor I believe that our explorations of other worlds and possible futures can only be constrained and dampened if we are limited by language tied to assumptions of binary gender. And as the editor of Capricious magazine, I want to do something about that.

Stories using gender diverse pronouns are always welcome in Capricious—we’ve published two in our first year—but I want to specifically showcase and celebrate their usage with a special double issue, available in both print and electronic formats. I’d really appreciate your help to make it happen by supporting our crowd-funding campaign.

You can support the Capricious SF fundraiser, or pre-order your copy, at